How the roles and responsibilities of social workers change

across the US and globally

Social work began informally centuries ago to address societal income inequities. Most early social work focused on helping the impoverished deal with the many issues that arise from being poor, some of the problems being rooted in lack of education, healthcare, and employment.

Charitable organizations and benevolent societies assisted those less fortunate after realizing the impact of extreme poverty on everyone in the community. From these philanthropic organizations and human institutions, social work grew into a bonafide field that required practitioners to earn a four-year degree to practice. While social workers work with clients with many issues,

poverty is not always the root cause of these issues, which is much different from the social work of the past. Today, the field has expanded so much that social work is done outside the confines of social services. Many social workers can also also also also be found in healthcare, private industry, and government.

How the roles and responsibilities of social workers change 1

Because of the breadth of social work careers, educational standards have increased. While it is possible to enter any number of jobs with a bachelor’s degree, social workers who aspire to move up the ladder in the field must earn a master’s in social work (MSW). Further, as the area grows, university/college programs have implemented online degree programs to make your education more accessible. For instance, Keuka College offers online MSW programs in New York to make earning such a degree accessible for students.

More than academic credentials, the roles and responsibilities of the craft have moved out of benevolent and charitable acts to ensure that the impoverished and disaffected receive support. Modern social work focuses on making individuals productive members of their communities while also on being advocates to speak up for the many inequities that communities worldwide face. With that said, let’s explore how the roles and responsibilities of social workers have changed across the US and worldwide.

The Role of Social Workers in the US 

As stated above, the role of social workers has changed considerably since the field’s inception almost a few centuries ago. While helping clients address poverty-related problems was the priority in the beginning, that has shifted markedly. The area has expanded so much that social workers can become licensed professionals who diagnose and treat mental, behavioral, and emotional disorders. They also teach and train students as a part of college and university programs that prepare students for the craft. While the way social workers administer services might differ across the country, below are some of the roles and responsibilities of social workers.

Determinants of health

The community health center movement, which arose from the Civil Rights Movement, established that everyone has the right to healthcare regardless of socioeconomic status. Small community health clinics were found In the cities, and local urban neighborhoods reached out to residents through activism, which spoke to providing them with this very basic right. o, address the lack of access to healthcare in many communities nationwide to help residents take care of their basic health needs.

These community clinics based their foundation on social principles, including community and workforce development, access to food, asset-based intervention, and adequate housing, among other tools. Essentially, they believed these tools formed the platform for success. Social work and healthcare converged from these community health centers and the activism that was a part of creating community clinics.

These professionals encountered the many facets of healthcare, such as policy, community, the healthcare environment, and family. They also functioned as conduits between healthcare organizations and community partners while supporting patients in disease management. In the healthcare environment, the role of social workers in helping patients has become vital simply because they can meet with patients in nontraditional settings, which offers a little more flexibility in assisting patients in accessing the care and services they need.

Foster parent trainers 

One aspect of social work involves helping children in foster care. Traditionally, this has been a big part of social work, but as the field has grown, social workers are taking on more responsibilities. These foster care social workers train foster care parents and help them procure a license. They also play an integral role in helping the foster parent raise the child.

Essential workers during crises 

Social workers are important in helping people access basic needs and services during a crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of how social workers are activated to help everyone. As burnout, compassion fatigue, and other trauma impacted first responders, social workers moved to become counselors, availing many deals with the trauma of the pandemic. These professionals also played an essential role in assisting people to obtain insurance coverage, locate resources, and educate the public about the virus.

Mental health providers

Outside of helping residents deal with trauma, social workers also support those suffering from anxiety, depression, emotional issues, and psychological problems. However, psychiatric social workers typically work with people who have severe mental/emotional disorders. These social workers might provide in-home visits to see patients or counsel them in healthcare settings.

After assessing the patient’s needs, these professionals prepare a care plan to help the individual deal with their condition, monitor their progress, and make necessary changes. As a part of caring for the patient, the social worker might also connect with other offices to provide the patient with additional services.

Bridges in the criminal justice system

Social workers also act as a bridge for those reentering society after serving time in prison, dealing with substance abuse problems, and those interacting with the criminal justice system. In helping residents dealing with the criminal justice system, social workers often serve as case managers for people who are incarcerated or who are on probation. They also advocate for these individuals and their families in helping

them access necessary services. Where there are gaps in services, social workers provide these individuals with access to the resources they need. They also play a role in helping others with substance abuse problems overcome their addictions. In addition to counseling, social workers guide clients on crisis intervention.

They help clients develop goals and strategies for reaching them and provide clinical services. As with other roles, social workers contact different community offices and organizations to help their clients.

Advocates for the elderly

Gerontological social workers help the elderly access needed services at home or in a retirement community. They also help the elderly access needed resources and maintain a relationship with the individual and family to adjust the care plan. They also help the elderly access needed resources and maintain a relationship with the individual and family to change the care plan. They also help the elderly access needed resources and maintain a relationship with the individual and family to change the care plan as needed. They also help the elderly access needed resources and maintain a relationship with the individual and family to change the care plan.

In this role, the social worker might work with family members to help them transition into retirement communities, which includes working with the individual and their families to devise a care plan.

Advocates for school-aged children

Social workers are also advocates for children while they are at school. They identify at-risk children and family issues that might be at the root of a child’s problems. Most commonly, social workers in this setting find themselves putting together individualized education plans, or IEPs,

for students having learning issues at school. Parents and other instructional professionals are usually involved with creating these IEPs with the social worker, which include strategies for helping the student learn and addressing behavioral issues the child might have. Finally, social workers for public schools might advocate for students to access supplemental services not provided by the school.

The role of social workers Internationally

Outside the US, the concerns of social workers reflect various phenomena that impact global communities. Below are just a few of the roles and responsibilities of social workers worldwide.

Global warming

In Australia, global warming and climate change can impact communities nationwide. Social workers’ concerns revolve around how to help these communities gain access to education, healthcare, and employment in the middle of a society that will face this looming challenge.

Children in poverty

For social workers in Iran, the focus is on helping children who have no one they can trust or protect them. This country’s social workers face transitioning children into a place where they can be educated and then move on to be employed citizens contributing to their communities. The social work system is set up to help children become educated, providing them with a stipend until they can get a job. However, the system also provides their charges with opportunities to launch a business or marry.

Reduction in social services

Social workers in Finland face challenges as the country downsizes its social services infrastructure. Part of this reduction involves reducing the amount of money residents receive from social service programs. Social workers have become the bridge for families losing some of their income due to reduced benefits.

Advocates for equity 

In Kenya, social workers advocate for communities facing historical inequities and social justice challenges challenges challenges challenges. Kenyan social workers have become advocates for changing discriminatory policies, especially those that negatively impact poor communities. Furthermore, social workers have had to speak up for communities about policies that, on the surface, appear benign but are discriminatory.


While the roles and responsibilities that social workers take on may differ globally, eradicating poverty is a consistent theme around the world and in the US. Poverty impacts whether individuals have access to the basic supports that allow them to be self-sufficient and contribute to the community. Furthermore, poverty affects children to a greater extent because they depend on adults for their sustenance and guidance.

The responsibilities of social workers in the face of poverty are the same regardless of the community’s location. These professionals act as a bridge to opportunities, provide access to resources, and sometimes help those facing difficult situations. Ultimately, education, healthcare, and employment are all necessary for communities to flourish.

How do these responsibilities change across the world?

Whether in the US or internationally, social workers face different challenges based on the characteristics of the communities with which they work. For example, social workers in urban areas face a different set of challenges than social workers who serve in rural communities. In addition, culture also plays a role in how social workers assist their clients. Below are a few challenges that coworkers in both settings face and how culture can impact the social worker’s role.

Urban social work

Large metropolises are known for being hubs of financial and commercial activity. They are also cultural centers and home to many racial, ethnic, and cultural communities. This diversity is the spice of life. At the same time, the sheer number of people living in urban centers makes them ripe for high crime rates, marginalized populations, and socioeconomic disparities, which changes the needs of these communities.

Social workers must help urban residents deal with the numerous challenges they face. Access to services that will help remove the barriers to achieving financial freedom, such as educational support, healthcare, and social services, is essential. For example, a social worker in the urban environment might help underserved students access information for attending college or aid teen parents in transitioning from high school to the workforce, whether they attend college or not.

Rural social work

Residents in rural settings are often physically separated from the social, educational, and healthcare services they need. Rolling hills, farms, mountains, and rivers are some of the landscapes that separate residents from one another in these communities, leaving them isolated. Additionally, because these sparsely populated areas are so remote, their residents are limited in the type of educational programs, social services, and healthcare available.

These services are often located more than 100 miles from the rural town. For this reason, social workers in this setting must gain the trust of residents, who distrust outsiders, while finding creative ways to ensure that these residents have access to social services.

Cultural Differences and Social Work

Social workers also have to contend with the myriad cultural differences that might impact how they help community residents. Cultural norms dictate the unwritten rules of behavior that govern a society. If social workers are aware of community social norms, they can be more effective with their clients.

For instance, in cultures where rules are very strict, the social worker must remember to be culturally sensitive when helping the individual to avoid disrespecting or offending the client they are trying to help. Furthermore, in communities where the state collective community is more important than the individual, the social worker must remember that any assistance provided to clients must align with community-minded clients.

Is social work a career for you?

Social work is one of those fields that provides professionals with many opportunities to grow laterally or move into administrative roles. Beyond these opportunities, social work is a noble field that places the professional in an advocacy role. Social workers, regardless of the client, are advocates who speak up for communities and individuals who cannot, simply because they provide access to critical services and resources.

Fortunately, as the roles and responsibilities of social workers evolve and expand, the demand for more social workers has increased. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that employment in this profession is projected to grow by 13% from 2019 to 2029, three times that of other occupations.

Some reasons for this growth are that more people are being directed to treatment programs instead of prison, and the stigma around substance abuse disorders and mental health has decreased. Demand is only one reason to consider social work. However, it is a field where a person can affect change. Social work is not confined to social services. Social workers work in politics and government, where they can help influence policy.

They can also work in academia and research environments where they train other social workers or engage in research to impact how social work is deployed in communities countrywide and worldwide.

Final words

A career in social work can begin with a conversation about the different routes one might take to enter the profession. Career advisors can be found in the community and at local educational institutions. Counselors can offer career assessments that help you decide whether social work is an appropriate avenue and what type of social work best fits your career profile. Whether in the US or internationally, social work is an evolving profession looking for professionals to take part in the many different parts of the field.

Throughout the world, advocacy, equity, and access are essential facets of this profession, which provide the foundation for global citizens from all communities to rise out of the difficulties they might face.

Jeffery D. Silvers
Love and share my articles, I will be happy to react on it ! Spent 2002-2009 promoting weed whackers in Edison, NJ. Earned praise for importing junk food for fun and profit. Spent 2001-2006 exporting teddy bears in Atlantic City, NJ. Had some great experience investing in tattoos in Fort Walton Beach, FL. Spent 2002-2007 selling action figures in the aftermarket. Enthusiastic about working on basketballs on the black market.